In the early 70s, the Circle was a band that perhaps was the most technically adept in jazz ensemble – holding the record till today. And Barry Altschul was behind the drum throne. He also had a membership that got him to work with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Anthony Braxton. Working with the Circle was an all-encompassing situation for Barry. It was easy because he already had a background in traditional jazz styles. With these skills, he had solid ground for free playing. Since childhood, Barry was always an innovative drummer, which was also an added advantage for easy adaptation to the changing music world.
Barry Altschul has remained consistent with his style and approaches since working with the Circle to his recent duties with his own group. He is known for generating colossal momentum without overwhelming the ensemble, which most drummers fail to achieve. He gets his power as a rhythm player from the subtle touch he impacts on the drums.
You can always recognize his sound from its tightness and proper refinement. His style is described by strict attention to rhythmic and tonal detail. This playing has earned him a top spot on the list of drummers, with a thorough eye for perfection.
It’s amazing how he was able to grow so well, considering he taught himself. Well, at least until 1960, when he started learning from Charlie Persip. Barry was a regular player alongside pianist Paul Bley between 1964 and 70. They established a strong relationship that continued through the 70s and 80s.
He went ahead to study with Sam Ulano in 1969, which also gave him a chance to discover new ideas for his passion. He became a Jazz Composer’s Guild member and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association between 1964 and 68. His days in the 60s were all about playing mainstream jazz across Europe.
Barry recorded several projects with individual members of the Circle through the 70s. He recorded “Conference of Birds” in 1972, an album led by Holland. He worked alongside Braxton and Saxophonist Sam Rivers. Around the same time, he made several other records with Bley, bassist Alan Silver, and many other artists.
During the 80s, he shifted most of his attention to recording his own projects for Sole Note. But he continued working on the side with musicians like Simon Nabokov and Kenny Drew. His 1985 album That’s Nice depicts him as an exciting bandleader with good humor in a more modernized setup. But not much has been heard about him as a leader since this work.
From the mid-80s, Barry rarely appeared in concerts or on record. That has changed in recent years as he has become more visible. He made two sideman appearances on the CIMP label with Billy Bag and Joe Fonda (the FAB trio) and Adam Lane on the base. Barry Altschul is a force to reckon with across the music realm. He has recorded with many great musicians, among them Andrew Hill and Sonny Criss. He continues to make good music.